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Israel arrests Hamas leaders, warns of assassination as abduction crisis worsens

[JURIST] The Israeli military arrested seven Palestinian Cabinet ministers and some 20 lawmakers Thursday as tensions mounted [NYT report] between Israel [JURIST news archive] and Palestinians sparked by the Sunday abduction of Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in Gaza. Israel Army Radio [Wikipedia backgrounder; media website] indicated that Israel may trade some of the arrested leaders from the Hamas party that now controls the Palestinian government for the captured Shalit, although Israel earlier refused to do so. On Wednesday, Israel moved troops into southern Gaza, and sent warplanes over pro-Palestinian Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website; BBC profile] threatened to increase action against Palestinians, but said Israel has no plans to occupy Gaza [speech transcript]. Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon [Knesset profile] said that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is overseeing acts of terror and could be a target for assassination [JURIST report]. Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC profile] deplored Israel's actions as "crimes against humanity."

Responding to the worsening Middle East situation, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States all urged Israel and the Palestinians to step back [UN press release] and use diplomacy instead. AP has more.

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